The Beautiful Mess of the Catholic Journey

Over at Patheos, they’re getting ready to launch the Future of Catholicism week, part of their summer series on the Future of Religion.

Since some feel I’ve been a little hard on the Curia, these last two days, let me offer this poignant little piece.

When I think of the future of the Church, I think of — me.

A few years ago I was a humble parish secretary. That might seem like a surprising choice for an Ivy League-educated woman who had worked in politics and journalism. My mother certainly couldn’t understand it.

But some perspective-building in India, coupled with a nagging restlessness and my recent conversion to Catholicism actually made the job seem like a pretty rational choice. I belonged to the parish, after all, and as a parishioner I was all too aware of what was wrong with the rectory; I’d experienced the office’s seeming indifference and what I perceived to be unprofessionalism. Sensitive to all of that, I was sure I could make a positive difference in a neighborhood known for its skyrocketing HIV-AIDS rate, its poverty, and numerous other social ills. I could show the rectory how to be the humane face of the church, to its neighbors.

If I brought change to the inept rectory office, it paled in comparison to the change the office wrought in me.

Read it all.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Joe

    A very interesting and moving story. It is a beautiful mess. We can only glean the beauty from the mess (knowing that we will never be fully successful).

    And of course the turkey part reminded me of this. Beautiful mess indeed!

  • Bender

    I don’t know that this “beautiful mess of people, places, and things” should horrify, such that “you will want nothing more than to leave,” but it is good that such things “inspire” and want her to “remain in the loving embrace of the sacraments.” Rather than an attitude of “in spite of it all, I still love the Church,” perhaps we ought to aspire to dropping the “in spite of it all” part?

    It is something that I struggle with — patience — but it is perhaps because I struggle, and repeat that spiritual work of mercy to myself often, that I bring it up with others so often (including having yelled at people here to bear wrongs patiently). Better to not get aggravated in the first place, than to have this dichotomy of horrify-inspire.

    And perhaps do not view the Church so much in worldly terms, e.g., that it is all about social works, etc., and you won’t be so frustrated and disappointed when others end up being the obnoxious people that we are. Rather, remember that although we are in the world, we (and they) are not of the world.

    What is the Future of Catholicism?

    It is the New Jerusalem. That is the future. That is the only future of serious consideration.

    In the meantime, we will suffer. We will know hardship, we will struggle as we sojourn through this life. Sometimes we will stray from the path ourselves, or do stupido things, sometimes adversaries will seek to push us off the path or lead some of us astray.

    But those things are not the future. They are only a part of the journey, a part that Jesus has already told us that we will have to endure. Yet, though they may lie ahead, they are not the future.

    The future of Catholicism is to be One with the Lord, to be made new in the Blood of the Lamb. That is the future we must set our eyes on, if for no other reason than it, and only it, provides us hope, the hope by which we are saved even now.

  • Bender

    Anchoress –

    So I’m reading through these Future of Catholicism essays. I’m pleased that you and some others “get it,” understanding what Catholicism and what the Church actually are in their transcedent reality.

    Unfortunately, sad to say, there are also some who see “the Church” as little more than a worldly special interest public policy organization or a social work provider, not to mention those who have a profoundly poor understanding of the nature of Holy Orders and have used the occasion for their own personal advocacy.

  • Bender

    OK, done.

    Talk about your “epic fails.”

    Aside from you and a couple others, who understand the Church in the full context of Salvation History, a concept wholly lost to the others, if what they said is what the Church is all about, blah, blah, blah, the same-old, same-old, little more than a social club or political action committee, a purely human construct and institution, then please let’s drive a stake into that heart right now.

  • Julie

    I’ve had similar experiences to the author of the article, thinking that I, also, could help with the spiritual life of the newly merged parish where I was hired as music director. Soon after, our family was hit with a wave of serious trials, as the parish was simultaneously wracked with a money scandal involving the pastor and other staff, with unpleasant repercussions that dragged on for several years. As if that weren’t enough, the parish has been dealing with a very ugly second merge situation with much ill will. Hanging on to the faith for dear life, praying and giving thanks have been all that loyal parishoners have been able to manage in the midst these storms. But somehow, signs of internal growth and fellowship have been appearing seemingly as a result of all the humbling, trauma and hardship. God works in mysterious ways.

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  • Last Sphere

    (Shu-Fy H. Pongnon wrote – “….what is bad and what is evil never has the last word in our Church.”)

    Ah yes. And there it is. The simple message I need to remind myself over and over.

    Thank you Anchoress.

    (Bender wrote – “Unfortunately, sad to say, there are also some who see “the Church” as little more than a worldly special interest public policy organization or a social work provider, not to mention those who have a profoundly poor understanding of the nature of Holy Orders and have used the occasion for their own personal advocacy.”)

    Well put Bender. I couldn’t agree more my friend.

    In addition to all of this, I recall the profound and simple wisdom of Chesterton:

    “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.”

  • Bender

    Unfortunately, sad to say, there are also some . . .

    Just to clarify, by “there are some,” I mean the other essayists. (What especially annoyed me was “And the Church will not have a good reason to keep saying no.” By that one statement alone, he lost all credibility.)

  • zmama

    My first reaction to this piece was to think of reading Dorothy Day’s The Long Loneliness in college just before visiting Covenant House in NYC where I would spend a year and a half as a volunteer after graduation. Day’s description of our beautiful, messy Catholic church as being the one church accepting everyone came to life for me attending Mass in Holy Cross Church across from the Port Authority Bus Terminal where it was common to have a homeless person asleep in a pew in front of me.

    My second reaction to the piece is that I can relate to the author feeling at one moment ready to leave yet not being able to whenever I have gone back into the parochial school system as a teacher. My 2 years in an inner-city public school made me feel as if I had to teach with a gag on my mouth because I could not express my faith to my students. Only in Catholic schools have I felt free to teach according to who I truly am based on my faith. Yet, the struggles that surface in dealing with the reality of pastors, principals, and parents and all of their (and my own!) individual personalities and faults can make me want to throw in the towel unless I keep focused on Who is really in control, God Himself.

  • Steve

    Just wanted to say I really like your blog – keep up the great work!

    Common Cents

  • dymphna

    I wonder what the people who were working in the rectory office felt like when they read this essay?

    [I suspect they will infer that Shu-Fy came to a different appreciation of them, once she was behind the desk, herself. That is what she seems to be saying. admin]

  • Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

    That was beautifully written and very spot on, says this former corporate exec turned parish secretary. The greatest change that is needed is almost always in our own hearts.